Only Andrew McCutchen stood between Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse and a complete game last weekend at Miller Park, and the two are about to meet again.
Lohse will aim for a repeat of Sunday, when he needed only 100 pitches for 8 2/3 innings of a 4-1 Brewers win. He struck out nine and surrendered only four singles, one of which came off McCutchen's bat with two outs in the ninth inning.
Rather than risk letting the Brewers' ninth consecutive win slip away, manager Ron Roenicke went to reliever Will Smith for the game's final out. That McCutchen single cost Lohse a chance to go for his 11th career complete game.
"The bottom line is we've got to win that game and just keep the momentum going," Lohse said afterward. "If that guy gets on, then it turns into the tying run [at the plate], and you just want to stop it before you get there. ... I want to finish it, but if I want to finish it, then I've got to get that guy out. But it's not going to take away from how I feel about the game."
Lohse has produced a quality start -- six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs -- in two of his three starts, and opponents are batting just .211 (16-for-76) against him. Including Sunday's win, Lohse is 10-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 21 games (20 starts) against the Pirates, and has gone 10 straight starts against them without absorbing a loss. At PNC Park, he's 5-1 with a 3.88 ERA.
For the second straight start, Lohse will work opposite Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton. Morton allowed four runs, two earned, on six hits in seven innings against the Brewers on Sunday.
Just like Mike Matheny the day before, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle attributed the Brewers' early season success to their improved health.
"It does look like this division could be tougher than last year from the standpoint that the club we're playing tonight is healthy; they weren't healthy last year," Hurdle said Thursday afternoon. "Truth be told, they weren't healthy. They added two starting pitchers, the bullpen has come out of the chute throwing blanks. It was a solid major league bullpen last year, once [Jim] Henderson got in play and they added K-Rod [Francisco Rodriguez].
"They have a very good team, they defend the ball, they have useable speed, more than useable speed when they get on. The combination of the four teams with Chicago still trying to grow, but the division, we've got to carry our end to make it tough. It could definitely play tougher."
Brewers: Break in schedule coming
This series caps the Brewers' brutal early-season schedule, with 16 of the club's first 19 games against 2013 postseason participants. They handled it well, carrying a Major League-best 11-5 record into Friday's game against Pittsburgh
After this series, the Brewers play six straight games against the Cubs and Padres, both of whom finished below .500 last season.
Pirates: Crew wary of 'Cutch'
McCutchen has long been trouble for Brewers pitchers, with 18 home runs against them, including a first-inning, two-run shot against Yovani Gallardo on Thursday. He has more home runs against Milwaukee than any other opponent.
"McCutchen, the thing about him is he hits a lot of line drives at us. We've been fortunate," Roenicke said. "We need to figure out something a little bit better for him. He squares up too many baseballs. We've been lucky that we've been in the right place so far. This guy's a great hitter, so we need to figure out something a little better."
• The Pirates won seven of their 10 matchups with the Brewers at PNC Park last season and will look to repeat that success in 2014. They also host the Brewers from June 6-8 and Sept. 19-21.
• Lyle Overbay started at first base for the Brewers against Morton on Sunday, but won't be available this time. He was placed on the paternity list Thursday morning and hustled home to be by wife Sarah's side for the birth of the couple's fifth child, a son. Overbay could return to the Brewers as soon as Saturday.